Plus, developments in a ‘Snowden’ financing lawsuit.
Statements Kylin Pictures CFO Leo Shi Young made about his company’s rivalry with Bliss Media aren’t grounds for a defamation claim, according to a California judge.
Bliss and its CEO Wei Han sued in January, claiming Young defamed her and her company by describing Bliss as a “shell company” and Han as a “swindler.” Attorneys for Kylin Pictures, Michael Weinsten and Andrew Brettler, asked the court to toss the suit, arguing that the statements were made in a public forum, concerning a matter of public interest and are clearly protected speech.
L.A. County Superior Court judge Terry Green granted Kylin’s special motion to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which bars lawsuits arising from constitutionally protected activity like free speech.
“We are pleased with the Court’s ruling that none of the statements attributed to our clients from the December 26, 2016 press conference were defamatory as a matter of law,” says Brettler. “We have always maintained that this case was ill-conceived, and now Bliss Media and Wei Han are liable for the legal expenses our clients were forced to incur.”
Bliss’ attorney Edward Woods tells The Hollywood Reporter that Bliss respectfully disagrees with the decision. “The judge indicated that he believed it was a close question and that his decision might be appealed,” says Woods. “Bliss is now evaluating their options. However, Bliss believes that Kylin’s defamatory statements are not protected speech in California and that Kylin should not be able to avoid a trial on the merits of Bliss’ charges.”
It isn’t all good legal news for Kylin this month though. Attorney Bennett Fidlow filed a $3.3 million counterclaim against the company arising from “defamation per se, insulting words, and business conspiracy.”
Kylin sued Fidlow in December for malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, claiming he represented both it and Bliss in their partnership for Birth of a Dragon and failed to obtain a conflict waiver from each party. Kylin also claims he knowingly let the company pay millions to acquire rights to the project from a company that didn’t actually own them.
Now the attorney is firing back. He says the CEO of that company, QED Pictures, represented that it owned the rights and Kylin conspired with QED to shut Bliss out of the project. Fidlow also says Kylin and its executives engaged in a smear campaign to ruin his reputation in the media.
In other entertainment legal news:
— Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his $67 million asset seizure. The government cracked down on Megaupload in 2012, when the Hong Kong-based company operated one of the Internet’s largest file-sharing sites. Government prosecutors have been waiting to take Dotcom to court on charges of racketeering and criminal copyright infringement, but he’s been holed up in New Zealand awaiting possible extradition. That hasn’t stopped him from fighting to keep his money, though. In August, the 4th Circuit upheld the multi-million-dollar asset seizure, finding that by intending to evade prosecution, Dotcom waived his right to be heard before the government deprived him of property. In the petition, attorneys for Dotcom and his cohorts argue the case gives the high court an opportunity to provide clarity on when and how the fugitive disentitlement doctrine can be invoked and “to address concerns about civil forfeiture in an especially worrisome posture that invites abuse — where the Government is using untested criminal charges to seek forfeiture of foreign assets claimed by foreign nationals who have never resided in the United States.” (Read it in full here.)
— Vendian Entertainment is asking the court to dismiss claims in a $3 million fraud lawsuit involving Oliver Stone’s Snowden. Wild Bunch, the film’s distribution and international sales company sued Vendian in February, alleging the producer hasn’t ponied up the gap financing it promised for the biopic. In its motion to dismiss, Vendian says the fraud and fraudulent inducement claims should be tossed because they’re an improper attempt to “tortify” breach of contract claims. Further, attorney Jonathan Strauss argues that Wild Bunch is basing its fraud claim on a Nov. 2014 email which it mischaracterizes as an agreement. “Vendian actually did not make any funding commitments to Wild Bunch in this email, and as such there is nothing in this email in which Wild Bunch could have justifiably relied,” writes Strauss. “[T]he Court should dismiss the fraud claims and limit this case to the only real dispute — whether Vendian actually owes Wild Bunch any of the $3 million pursuant to Wild Bunch’s first count for breach of contract.”
— Nestor Barrero, former vice president of employment law at NBC Universal Media, is joining Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete as senior counsel in the firm’s Century City office. In his practice, he will advise studios, production companies and broadcast networks, among other businesses. “Nestor’s deep entertainment industry background is a great addition to our capabilities and will help us continue on our path to becoming an employment law powerhouse on the West Coast,” says Ken Sulzer, who leads the firm’s California practices — which have grown by nearly two dozen attorneys since the Century City office opened last year.